PCS: the basics about a permanent change of station
A PCS is an invitation to a new adventure. Master your move with these basics and the help of your installation relocation specialists.
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Part of military life is the promise of change. Every two or three years, you can expect to hit the road and start a new life at a new installation. If you haven’t experienced a permanent change of station yet, you will. Even if you serve four years and separate, the trip from your military housing to your future civilian address will come with orders.
This process can be confusing and intimidating. Like everything else in the military, there are more acronyms and rumors than most people can keep straight. We always recommend seeking out mentorship from trusted leaders in your command, but it helps if you have a baseline knowledge to help you make sense of their advice.
We’re all about working smarter, not harder. Since moving is stressful enough, we’re providing you with a down-and-dirty guide to navigating your PCS. Learn the lingo with Task & Purpose and find out who you can lean on before you get ahead of yourself.
I received PCS orders, now what?
Once you receive PCS orders, it’s tempting to jump into action and start planning your move – but don’t. Before you start stuffing belongings into cardboard boxes and house hunting online, take the time to understand the process, your command’s expectations, and the resources available to you.
What are my options during a PCS move?
Let’s talk about the different options you have.
Household goods move
In a household goods move, or HHG move, the military moves your belongings to your new duty station or address after separating. Transportation service providers are government moving companies that will come to your current address, pack your belongings, and move them to your new address. The Military Claims Office is available to compensate you for items that are damaged or lost during this process.
HHG moves are authorized for PCS moves to locations in the United States and overseas. This type of comprehensive service is best suited to families with a house full of belongings.
Personally procured move
In a personally procured move, also known as a PPM, do-it-yourself, or DIY move, you are responsible for moving your belongings to your new duty station or address after separation. You’ll need to pack your belongings and either hire a moving company or rent a truck and transport them yourself. As a cost-saving incentive, the government is willing to reimburse you with 95% of what it would cost them to provide a HHG move. This can result in you getting to keep a little extra money for your troubles. Partial advance payments are available to ease the financial burden of moving yourself.
PPM or DIY moves are authorized for PCS moves in the United States, and may be authorized for overseas moves in certain circumstances. They are also popular for temporary moves for short-term assignments.
Relocation assistance and resources
Remember that everyone at your new installation also came there from someplace else and everyone will also leave, so you’re not alone. Check with your current and future duty station for resources that can make the PCS process easier and more transparent. You’re likely to find not only answers to PCS-specific questions, but information about the local area surrounding your new home.
The official DOD moving portal has some great information on the different types of PCS moves. Blogs and online videos are useful, but we also recommend going straight to the source.
Military OneSource offers information and planning tools to help make your PCS as smooth as possible. There are even online courses designed to help you understand what you’re getting into.
Check with your installation’s transportation office for advice about your specific situation. The name might vary depending on your branch of service; but, no matter what they’re called, someone at your command is there to help. A PCS might be new to you, but they handle them every day and can make quick work of most challenges you encounter.
Children, pets, spouses who are also service members, and other factors mean that your PCS might not be like someone else’s. Make sure to ask questions about what your new command requires and has to offer. The best time to get answers is when there’s still time to adjust course.
Task & Purpose PCS glossary
Permanent change of station, or PCS, doesn’t actually mean permanent; it just means that’s where you’ll be until you get your next orders. Contrast that with TDY orders that send you somewhere for a short period of time before returning to the same duty station where you started.
Household goods moves, or HHG moves, occur when the government assigns a transportation service provider to pack and move all your belongings for you.
PPM or DitY
Personally procured moves are also referred to as PPM, do-it-yourself, and DitY moves. In this case, you handle everything yourself and hire a moving company or rental truck if necessary. The government then reimburses you at a rate determined by the projected cost to provide an HHG move.
CONUS and OCONUS
CONUS refers to the continental United States. OCONUS refers to locations outside the continental United States. During your military career, there’s a good chance you’ll travel to both. Keep in mind that moving outside the United States presents more challenges, restrictions, and boxes you’ll need to check. Even if you’ve moved several times before, you’ll want to research the specific requirements associated with your next move.
Frequently asked questions on PCS moves
Here’s T&P’s additional brief.
Can I PCS while pregnant?
It is possible to PCS during pregnancy, but there are limitations that affect how far along into your pregnancy you can PCS and what types of units you can serve in. As always, your first stop should be your physician. A close second should be your command. Keep both of those informed, and you should have a safe pregnancy and (relatively) accommodating move.
Can I PCS with my pet?
If you received PCS orders that keep you in the continental United States, odds are good that you can bring your pet. Overseas moves aren’t as simple. At the very least, you’ll need documentation from your veterinarian proving that your pet meets all health requirements for the country you’re moving to. If approved, your pet will likely have to be quarantined upon arrival as a precaution.
If all else fails, you may need to rehome your pet. If that’s the case, be open to rehoming services that can expose your pet to more potential owners than you could find on your own.
If I know PCS orders are coming, how can I prepare?
While you don’t want to get ahead of yourself, it certainly helps to get organized, document your possessions, and make time for the people who matter most before you leave. As always, it helps to plan ahead.
Can I make money by moving myself?
It’s possible to pocket a little extra change during a PPM, but don’t expect to pay off a car with it. You can save the government money by moving yourself, so they don’t mind incentivising service members by allowing them to keep whatever money they don’t spend. Exactly how much you end up with will depend on how far you move, how many possessions you have, and what you end up spending on gas, food, and lodging along the way. Maybe a Prius isn’t such a bad idea, after all.
How soon will I have to report to my new duty station?
A: Your PCS orders will specify when to separate from your current command and check in at your new command. The time in between is allotted for travel, and the government calculates how much time you’ll need based on how far you’re moving. It’s important that you never be late, although you may check in early.
Video on PCS moves
We realize that not everyone is a text-based learner. For the visual types out there, we have your back with a video showing you how to make your PCS move as painless as possible. Take some tips from the real-life experiences of someone who recently completed a PCS move.
Task & Purpose’s favorite PCS-related products
If you plan on letting the government handle your PCS move, make sure to document any valuables and then let the movers handle the heavy lifting. If you’re going to move yourself, there are a few essentials that can make the process easier.